Social media drives narratives. That cannot be emphasized enough. And it is particularly true during a crisis over customer service. More and more dissatisfied customers are taking to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to express their displeasure over poor customer service or what they view as poor quality products. A case in point happened with the Twitter war between conservative author, Ann Coulter and Delta Airlines.
Coulter’s problems with Delta began, after the exit-row seat she reserved on her flight from New York to West Palm Beach was given away to a fellow passenger without any “explanation, compensation or apology” she claimed on Twitter. Delta’s social media team reached out via Twitter apologizing to Coulter and offering to compensate her the extra money she had paid. But that wasn’t the end of the Twitter war heard around the world. Coulter took again to Twitter attacking Delta, its employees, and even the passenger who took her seat. Delta responded to her via Twitter defending its employees and passengers. The feud between Coulter and Delta was picked up by the news media and is still ongoing. Yet it raises the question in this social media driven age in which every tweet and post is analyzed, how should a company respond when under attack via social media?
These are some things a company should do and remember:
- Respond to the complaint. Ignoring it will only make the customer angrier and lead to others on social media joining in. Like Delta originally did, acknowledge a mistake if it was made, offer an apology, and finally offer a resolution. Always act as if your response will be viewed by the entire world because with the power of social media it probably will be.
- Stand up for the company if you are unfairly accused of something. In the case of Delta, the company stood up for its employees and passengers when Coulter’s tweets began attacking them. This showed a humanizing face for Delta and allowed the company also to stand up against false allegations. They also remembered that part of their brand identity is their employees and they defended that brand DNA that was under attack.
- Use humor and class in admitting a major mistake if possible. Social media can be abusive and snarky. If admitting a mistake, a company is always smart to use some self-depreciating humor in its response and take the high road. Anything else will make the social media crisis worse.
- Have a social media team that responds 24/7. Social media never rests and that why a company always needs to respond right away or else the social media firestorm will grow.
Social media complaints are never-ending. The key for companies is to respond to each in a way that it is one and gone. Failing to do so will ensure that the complaint becomes a full blown crisis on social media and then in the traditional media causing extreme brand damage.
Businessman and reality television star, Donald Trump appears to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016. This became all but official with the exit of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican presidential race following a devastating defeat in Indiana. Love Trump or hate him, he has shown on the stump some valuable public relations lessons that CEOs would be wise to copy. Trump demonstrated:
- Consumers will buy a brand that is consistent with its brand story.
- The power of social media.
- Stay on message no matter what.
When Trump entered the Republican race for president few took him seriously. There was much speculation that he was running as a publicity ploy and would not actually qualify. If he did run, experts stated he would need to refashion himself from the politically incorrect, Donald Trump that everyone knew from the tabloids and Celebrity Apprentice. Yet he did the complete opposite. He doubled down on his politically incorrect brand with his feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States, and building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. Corporate sponsors of Trump’s bailed in the wake of the controversy. Yet Republican voters loved it and catapulted him into the lead and eventually crowned him as the nominee. Contrast this with Hillary Clinton who has reinvented herself several times this campaign cycle and has yet to secure the Democratic nomination against Bernie Sanders and has created greater doubts among voters about what she believes. Being consistent to one’s brand is essential for success. Consumers buy into a brand’s story and Trump understood that. Business leaders need to remember that.
Everyone knows that social media has changed our world. Large numbers of consumers report getting their news from what they read on social media compared to traditional news. Trump understood that. He understood the power of utilizing Twitter to reach voters over the heads of traditional media. One tweet from Trump received more media coverage than television commercials combined of his top rivals. Beyond that, Trump utilized a way to connect with voters over the heads of the media and not through traditional advertising but rather via social media. This created a greater sense of loyalty and feeling of ownership with Trump by voters. Business leaders need to understand the power of social media that Trump demonstrated and harness it to reach their consumers and rely on it more than just traditional advertising.
Finally, Trump understood an age old communication lesson, keep your message to just several points and keep referring to it over and over again no matter what happens or what you are asked. Throughout the campaign, Trump has been consistent with his message to the exasperation of his rivals and the news media. In debates and interviews regardless of what was asked he referred to his main message points while his rivals were thrown off message consistently. Business leaders should remember stay on message regardless of what is asked and always make any question fall back to your main message points.
Donald Trump has reshaped politics in 2016 without a doubt. But he has also taught some valuable communication strategies that CEOs and business owners should study and utilize.
Social media drives narratives and brands react to the social media narrative. This means that many of the old rules of crisis communications no longer apply as social media drives a crisis regardless if everything was handled correctly or not in addressing the situation with the media and key stakeholders.
We saw this happen this week with tennis star, Maria Sharapova. Sharapova, the world’s highest-paid female athlete, admitted that she had tested positive for the recently banned drug, meldonium while doing a standard drug test at the Australian Open. The five-time Grand Slam champion announced that she had tested positive and that she had been taking the drug for health reasons since 2006. The drug had just recently been banned. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced that it was provisionally suspending Sharapova as of March 12, 2016. From a crisis communications response, Sharapova had done everything right. She was proactive in announcing the scandal herself rather than allowing it to be announced in the media and losing a news cycle. Normally that would have defused the situation considerably, save for social media.
Social media, particularly Twitter exploded with attacks on Sharapova and implications that there were even darker scandals that she was hiding and hoping to avoid coming to light by her admission. Many traditional media outlets as has become commonplace began picking up the Twitter comments and doing speculative stories on what other scandals involving the tennis great might emerge next.
Sponsors of Sharapova who have stood by stars with far worse scandals – Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, and Lance Armstrong bailed from their sponsorships of her. First Nike announced that it was suspending its relationship with her. Porsche and TAG Heuer quickly followed suit. Others are expected to join them. The major reason wasn’t because of Sharapova’s admission but rather the social media outcry, particularly on Twitter. Brands react more to social media outrage than traditional media coverage and traditional media coverage now follows social media outrage to keep a crisis alive.
This leads to the point that in crisis communications, no longer must a crisis communications strategy be developed to deal with the media and key stakeholders, now a social media policy must be included in any successful plan. Bloggers and key influencers on Twitter and Facebook, as well as, the average person must be addressed via a clear social media policy during a crisis. If not as we are seeing a firestorm will ensure and brands will bail. Maria Sharapova is the first but certainly not the last to fall victim to the new rules of crisis communications in the social media world of today.
Social media drives narratives. This cannot be stated enough. Yet despite the power of social media and brands realizing its importance, they forget about its power and potential to create a crisis. Very often their social media strategy does not reflect their tradition public relations strategy.
A case in point was celebrity chef, Paula Deen. A photograph of Deen dressed as Lucille Ball and her son, Bobby with a brown face supposedly as Desi Arnaz was tweeted on Deen’s Twitter account. This is occurred as as Deen has been waging a public relations campaign to rebuild her brand after accusations of racism in 2013 practically sank her brand. The public outcry was tremendous with Deen the focus of outrage and ridicule. It was later stated by Deen that the photograph was from several years ago and her social media manager who was responsible for the tweet had been dismissed. Yet the story received widespread media coverage.
Whether an innocent mistake or not, the damage has been done to Deen, reinforcing the image in many people’s minds that Deen is a racist and justifying to sponsors yet again why they were wise to sever ties with her. This as Deen has been going to great lengths to rebuild her image with a carefully orchestrated media and public relations campaign. With that one tweet all the work she had done was undone and its back to the drawing board for Deen.
Brands often forget that their social media strategy must correspond with their traditional media strategy. If it doesn’t that becomes a story.
Brands also forget the power of social media. The Deen photo was taken down yet it had been screen captured and re-tweeted thousands of times. Once something is posted on a social media site, it can be captured even if it is taken down. Nothing is ever permanently deleted from social media.
Social media also creates the news stories that the media cover. The Deen photo would never have received the coverage it did save for social media driving it. Very often the media doesn’t even consider something to be newsworthy until it explodes on social media. This is why every social media post needs to be handled with the care that a brand would handle a press release and needs constant monitoring. But it isn’t just Deen who forgot the power of social media. Both the recent Brian Williams’ story and Bill Cosby story were the result of social media. Veterans’ organization had tried contacting NBC and other media outlets for years about Williams’ fabrications and were ignored. Only when the story appeared on social media did it obtain coverage. Likewise the allegations by numerous women against Bill Cosby did not receive strong media coverage until they appeared on social media. In both cases the media went into a frenzy to compensate for not covering them originally feeling they had been scooped by social media.
Brands know the power of social media in reaching consumers and playing a role in their marketing efforts. What they must never underestimate is the power it has in driving narratives and causing a media firestorm. To do so is to do it at their peril.
More and more we are seeing the power of social media. A tweet can set off a thousand retweets and skyrocket a new company or brand off the charts. It can also destroy and derail a career as the Grammy winning singer/rapper, CeeLo Green, best known as one of the original judges of NBC’s “The Voice” found out recently.
CeeLo had been accused of sexual battery in 2012 by a woman. The Los Angeles Police Department investigated the allegations and after a yearlong investigation, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him on the allegations. However stemming from the investigation, CeeLo pleaded guilty to a felony charge of furnishing a controlled substance. He received three years’ probation and community service.
That should have been the end of the story. Yet it wasn’t and a Twitter-caused firestorm erupted when CeeLo tweeted several comments about his case, particularly on the subject of rape.
Among his tweets were: “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!”; “When someone brakes on a home there is broken glass where is your plausible proof that anyone was raped.”; and “If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you consciously! so WITH Implies consent,”
There was immediate and justified outrage to his reprehensible tweets from fans and in both traditional and social media. TBS that had aired his reality television show announced that they were cancelling “The Good Life”. Green issued an apology and deleted his Twitter account.
Yet much damage has been done to his reputation. Can he recover? Perhaps.
From a crisis communications standpoint there several things that need to be done (and it must be done sincerely).
- Issue a new strong and forceful apology, taking full responsibility for his tweets, apologizing to everyone he offended, particularly rape victims, and acknowledging the enormity of rape and its impact.
- Sit down for a hard-hitting interview discussing what he did, why he tweeted what he did, apologizing sincerely, and discussing how this can be used as a learning experience.
- Step back and go silent.
- Take sensitivity training.
- Become involved without publicizing it with rape help organizations such as RAINN.
- After a period of six months or so emerge from a media blackout.
- Let others tell of how he has changed and helped spread the message.
Will this strategy entirely rehabilitate Ceelo’s image? No but it will help him to survive if done sincerely. This is also a cautionary tale of the power of social media that once you post something, it can never be entirely deleted and a social media firestorm will lead to a traditional media disaster.